Before the offseason even got underway, the Dodgers managed to make an impact signing that sent shockwaves through the baseball world. With a record-setting five-year, $35MM deal, Los Angeles convinced former Rays architect Andrew Friedman to head west and discover what it’s like to work with a seemingly limitless budget. With years of success in Tampa Bay on a consistently league-dwelling payroll, it’ll be fascinating to watch what Friedman can do with a Brinks truck at his disposal.
- Clayton Kershaw, SP: $193MM through 2020
- Zack Greinke, SP: $94MM through 2018
- Matt Kemp, OF: $85.5MM through 2019
- Adrian Gonzalez, 1B: $85MM through 2018
- Carl Crawford, OF: $62.25MM through 2017
- Andre Ethier, OF: $56MM through 2017
- Hyun-jin Ryu SP: $25MM through 2018
- Yasiel Puig, OF: $24MM through 2018
- Erisbel Arruebarrena, SS: $16M through 2018
- Alex Guerrero, 2B: $14MM through 2017
- Dan Haren, SP: $10MM through 2015
- Brian Wilson, RP: $9.5MM through 2015
- Brandon League, RP: $7.5MM through 2015
- Juan Uribe, 3B: $6.5MM through 2015
- J.P. Howell, RP: $4.25MM through 2015
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- A.J. Ellis, C (4.151): $3.8MM
- Kenley Jansen, RP (4.073): $8.2MM
- Darwin Barney, 2B (4.053): $2.5MM
- Justin Turner, IF (4.045): $2.2MM
- Drew Butera, C (4.018): $900K
- Scott Elbert, RP (3.086): $800K
- Dee Gordon, 2B (2.154): $2.5MM
- Hanley Ramirez, Chad Billingsley, Kevin Correia, Roberto Hernandez, Chris Perez, Jamey Wright, Paul Maholm
Other Payroll Notes
- Will receive a $3.9MM payment from the Red Sox in 2015 as a condition of their blockbuster trade.
- Billingsley will receive a $3MM buyout after the Dodgers declined his $14MM option for 2015.
When it was learned that Friedman would be joining the Dodgers, there was immediate speculation that longtime Rays skipper Joe Maddon could follow. When Maddon opted out of his contract with the Rays, the rumor mill started churning once again with many wondering if the Dodgers could fire Don Mattingly to replace him with the two-time American League manager of the year. However, the Dodgers were quick to release a statement making it clear that Donnie Baseball would be back in the dugout for 2015. Maddon, meanwhile, signed on with the Cubs.
Joining Friedman in the front office will be former A’s exec Farhan Zaidi and former Padres GM Josh Byrnes. Zaidi will serve as the club’s GM while Byrnes has been named the senior vice president of baseball operations. There are now a number of fresh faces in the Dodgers’ front office that have supplanted mainstays Ned Colletti (who remains in an advisory capacity), Logan White, and De Jon Watson, and the roster could see some similar turnover.
Hanley Ramirez and the Dodgers discussed an extension earlier in the year and the shortstop made it known that he wanted to be a “Dodger for life” and ink a long-term deal. Those talks were tabled in August as Ramirez was sidelined with an oblique injury and the two sides agreed to pick things up after the season. Now, it would appear that they’re more focused on replacing his .283/.369/.448 batting line than re-signing him to a new multiyear deal.
Ramirez rejected the Dodgers’ QO, so they’ll receive draft pick compensation if he goes elsewhere. Despite Ramirez’s injury history and his subpar defense at shortstop (-15.6 UZR/150 in 2014), he still figures to be amongst the most hotly-pursued free agents of the winter, especially given a willingness to play a position other than shortstop. Even if Ramirez’s future is at third base or in the American League where he can be a part-time DH, he will draw lots of attention. Recently, I profiled Ramirez and looked at his potential market this winter.
If Ramirez leaves, the Dodgers could look into a temporary solution at shortstop that would allow them to build a bridge to Corey Seager down the line, possibly in 2016. There are options on the open market, but not particularly glamorous ones: Stephen Drew, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jed Lowrie stand as the best available shortstops beyond Ramirez. Looking in-house, shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena is a defensive wizard and could be plugged in as the starter with help from Miguel Rojas, but that will require the Dodgers to make a significant offensive upgrade elsewhere.
The Dodgers’ best internal option offensively could be turning to Alex Guerrero at shortstop. Guerrero was signed to a four-year, $28MM deal in October of last year to play second base before something funny happened along the way: Dee Gordon emerged as a highly-productive second baseman for the Dodgers, earning his first All-Star nod in 2014. So, putting Guerrero on the opposite side of the bag from Gordon would be a no-brainer move if Ramirez leaves, right? Not exactly. Guerrero has previous experience at shortstop, but the Dodgers focused on getting him up to speed at second base last season, where he apparently wasn’t blowing observers away defensively. In theory, Gordon would be a very attractive trade candidate in an offseason where there isn’t much available on the free agent market at second base, and that would clear a path for Guerrero to play what might be his best position. Still, that would require a significant package for Gordon and a whole lot of faith from the Dodgers’ front office in Guerrero’s abilities. On the plus side, Guerrero is said to have recovered well from the incident with Miguel Olivo which cost him part of his ear.
The Dodgers’ outfield glut has been a topic of discussion for a long time now and they still have quite the logjam. Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, and Joc Pederson are all in the fold and it stands to reason that they would want to trade at least one of those players for help in another area. Ideally, the Dodgers would probably look to move Ethier and/or Crawford, allowing them to focus on a starting outfield of Kemp, Pederson, and Puig with Scott Van Slyke in support. Friedman, in fact, confirmed that a trade of at least one outfielder seems likely this offseason.
Ethier is owed an eye-popping $56MM after this season and that number could increase even further thanks to an attainable $17.5MM vesting option for 2018 that is tied to plate appearances in the preceding year. Trading Ethier, who once carried so much promise, would require the Dodgers to eat a significant portion of his salary. The 32-year-old (33 in April) slashed just .249/.322/.370 in 2014 with a very pedestrian 0.7 WAR.
Moving Crawford, 33, could be even tougher. Crawford gave the Dodgers a .300/.339/.429 slash line in 2014, an improvement over last season, but it’s a far cry from the work that Friedman got to witness up close for years in Tampa Bay. He also played in just 105 games and that won’t help ease his perception as an injury-prone player. Just like with Ethier, trading the four-time All-Star will mean picking up a good chunk of the check. That won’t necessarily be a problem for the cash-flush Dodgers, but finding a fit could still be tricky.
The Blue Jays could have vacancies to fill in left and center field if they lose both Colby Rasmus and Melky Cabrera to free agency. The Rangers, meanwhile, have a corner outfield vacancy after declining Alex Rios’ $13.5MM club option. If the Dodgers pick up a very significant share of the check, teams like the Reds or White Sox could have interest. Ethier and Crawford have their flaws, but if the Dodgers can throw in enough cash, they could have appeal to clubs who are looking at a flat free agent outfield market. From a pure talent perspective, the Dodgers would certainly like to trade those two before Kemp, but he is the most expensive of the trio and has drawn significant trade interest in the past.
While the Dodgers have a surplus in the outfield, it appears that they have a good amount of work to do in the bullpen. Kenley Jansen (2.76 ERA, 1.93 xFIP, 13.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 in 2014) was stellar, but the bridge to him was anything but. On paper, a ’pen featuring the likes of Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, and Brandon League (who admittedly did improve from a rough 2013) looked serviceable, but the Dodgers actually wound up with one of the worst bullpens in the majors in 2014. Injuries to Chris Withrow and others didn’t help matters. They’ll have J.P. Howell back in the mix, to serve as a reliable arm, but the Dodgers will make some changes this winter.
This year’s free agent reliever market features plenty of notable veteran names that will see big paydays, but that has never been Friedman’s style for building a bullpen in the past. And, after all, there’s already a great deal of money committed to the bullpen for 2015 with Wilson, League, Howell, and Jansen combining for roughly $30MM in salary. I would expect Friedman to scour the market for value options while keeping an eye out for quality relievers via trade, but then again, maybe he wants to take his new Ferrari convertible out for a spin after years of driving a sensible four-door sedan. If he wants to spend big, David Robertson and Andrew Miller would both look pretty nice in Dodger blue. Meanwhile, guys like Pat Neshek, Joba Chamberlain, and Jason Frasor would be a bit more sensible.
The Dodgers rotation will feature Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu, and Dan Haren but the fifth spot is a bit unclear at this point. Prospect Zach Lee might be a candidate to fill the role, but his 5.38 ERA with 5.8 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in Triple-A last season says that he’ll need some more seasoning before making his debut.
The free agent market is littered with older middle-of-the-rotation types, but Friedman’s newly-found deep pockets should lead him in a different direction. Someone like Justin Masterson, who will turn 30 in March, could make sense for the Dodgers. He’s one year removed from his best season ever (3.45 ERA with 9.1 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9), the advanced metrics say that he was better than the core stats would have you believe in 2014, and he is hopeful that he’ll be back to 100% health after an offseason of rest and rehabilitation. Want to go even younger? Japanese standout Kenta Maeda will be 27 in April and while the bidding for him should be fierce, it’s not out of the realm that the Guggenheim group could green light that signing. Recently, Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com heard that the Dodgers were unlikely to go after any starter that would cost them a draft pick, which would rule out QO pitchers like Max Scherzer and James Shields. On the trade market, names like Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and maybe Cole Hamels could make some sense for L.A. if they’re willing to part with prospects like Seager, Pederson or Julio Urias.
One more area to keep an eye on for the Dodgers is at catcher, where Ellis may have fallen out of favor as the team’s starter after hitting .191/.323/.254 last season. The Dodgers have already been connected to old friend Russell Martin — the clear prize of the free agent market. The price tag there is climbing by the day, but he’d make a great pitching staff even better and give some more offense behind the plate. If he’s too expensive or not keen on returning to his old stomping grounds, the Dodgers could look to the trade market where Jason Castro and Miguel Montero are said to be available.
With a whole lot of money and an executive at the helm who knows how to stretch a dollar, the possibilities for the Dodgers are endless this winter. Whatever path they take, they’ll return an elite rotation that should keep them firmly in the mix in next year’s NL West.